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Hong Kong security law

Hong Kong defense fund trustees arrested under China security law

Cardinal Zen among 4 pro-democracy activists detained and released on bail

Cardinal Joseph Zen, former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, attends a 2018 news conference in the city.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Four pro-democracy figures linked to a now-dissolved fund for Hong Kong protesters have been arrested on allegations of colluding with foreign forces. They were released on bail around midnight Thursday.

Cultural scholar Hui Po-keung was apprehended Tuesday night at a Hong Kong airport, while barrister Margaret Ng, 74; Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90; and singer Denise Ho, 45, were taken in by national security police under China's national security law on Wednesday, police sources said.

Ng was released on bail from police headquarters in Wan Chai just after midnight Thursday, the news outlet Hong Kong Free Press tweeted. Ng told reporters she was "a bit tired" but feeling all right, and thanked them for waiting for her. The news outlet also tweeted that Cardinal Zen and Hui had been released around the same time.

The four were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped arrested demonstrators linked to the 2019 Hong Kong protests pay legal and medical fees. The fifth trustee, Cyd Ho, is in prison on a separate charge.

The fund, which relied on donations, disbanded in October after the city's national security police investigated the fund and demanded it hand over operational details including information about donors.

Last year, the police said that providing financial assistance or property to people who have committed offenses under the security law would itself be a violation of the law.

The Vatican said on Wednesday it had learned of the cardinal's arrest in Hong Kong "with concern" and was following the matter closely.

"The Holy See has learned with concern of the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the developments of the situation with extreme attention," spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters earlier Wednesday that the White House is calling on China to "immediately release" Cardinal Zen and the others.

U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said America was concerned about the "clampdown" in Hong Kong, including in religious circles and academia.

"All I can tell you is that I think we're increasingly troubled by steps in Hong Kong to pressure and eliminate civil society," Campbell was reported to have told an online event in Washington when asked about the arrests.

British-based advocacy group Hong Kong Watch condemned the arrests and called for the immediate release of the activists.

"Today's arrests signal beyond a doubt that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong," said Benedict Rogers, Hong Kong Watch's chief executive.

In a case related to independent news organization Stand News, Ng and Denise Ho -- both board members of the online news company -- were arrested in December on sedition charges. The news platform shut down and dismissed all staff immediately after the arrest.

Cardinal Zen, one of 209 senior members of the Catholic clergy, was a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party and widely revered for being outspoken on human rights issues and political freedom. His arrest could spark further tension between the Vatican and China, which have no diplomatic relations.

The National Security Department has arrested more than 180 activists, journalists, lawyers and opposition lawmakers in a sweeping crackdown on dissent since Beijing imposed a national security law in June 2020.

Civil liberties are expected to erode further after security hard-liner John Lee was officially picked as the city's next chief executive on Sunday. His ascension to the top job underscored the importance of national security and Beijing's determination to tighten its grip.

The European Union called Lee's appointment "another step in the dismantling of the 'one country, two systems' principle," while the Group of Seven leading economies called it a "continued assault on political pluralism and fundamental freedoms."

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